Thursday, February 21, 2013

Musings on a Favourite Book

7:48 PM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
Since having heard about the upcoming radio Drama of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and since having learned that the Shewoof does not esteem it so highly as she ought, I have been considering what it is about that book which spoke to me so.

At a basic level, it is escapist. It is an adventure story set outside the realms of everyday life. The world is fantastic, and magic satisfies in a way that no crime drama or spy/military thriller ever will. But it is not a world so vague and separate as Middle Earth; it coexists with the world of the known, and therefore, taps into the realm of daydreams in a way high-fantasy never can. In Neverwhere, the remarkable lurks just beneath the surface, out of sight of the ordinary, but waiting to bubble up through the cracks.

The story has the magic of a rainy day in a foreign city; total anonymity and the simultaneous thrill and fear of leaving everything behind and striking out into the unknown. For the protagonist, everything is new and frightening, and at the same time, so much is a twisted reflection of the world he already knows.

I think part of the appeal to me is the very notion of adventure. In the America of the 21st century, adventure and danger--especially to my demographic--means "let us go do stupid stuff." One does not get many opportunities to prove one's incipient heroism these days, outside of fighting wars, without objectives, in far removed lands, without the appropriate legal sanctions of the Congress. I applaud those who serve, and while I would rather many of our campaigns not be embarked upon, I am glad they are prosecuted--by and large--by men of honor. Perhaps a topic for another time.

That is not the adventure for me, but there is a definite hunger for adventure, which will only find vicarious satisfaction.

The protagonist is not prepared for his adventure, he does not want it, and yet it takes his goodness, purifies it by trial, and makes a hero out of him. And even then, part of Gaiman's genius, he sits weeping brokenly against that wall, scrabbling to return. He is lost to that adventure, and he could never return to the ordinary. That is just another aspect of the danger, the thrill of the story. He became something more in that other reality, and he did not want to lose it.

It is a story about an ordinary, boring, fellow who gets pulled into a world where the ordinary cannot survive; he must become extraordinary or perish on the way. It isn't as though I'm dreaming about getting pulled into the sewers, or chased around by Croup and Vandemar, but there is some kind of uralt primordial craving for a test. The feats of strength simply are not enough.

You take the slow burn of this psychological subtext, and then toss on the accelerant of Gaiman's master wordsmanship, and it is no surprise that it speaks to me as it does.

Plus, I think that Gaiman has mastered, more than any writer I have ever read, the vocabularies of anonymity and shabbiness. I have to think of American Gods as well; it isn't just shabbiness, rather, resplendent shabbiness. I am thinking of the Marquis de Carabas and Odin in particular. Both are unknown and unknowable, obviously powerful, and yet, wear all of their power veiled. Everyone in their world knows who they are, yet no one outside, and yet, that anonymity does not make them any less than what they are.

Curious, I will need to consider further.

Shaggy II

6:58 PM Posted by Patrick 5 comments
Alright, it is still difficult for me to decide, after a while, what exactly I think of the face-rug. It has its ups and downs. The response, despite a few nay-sayers, has been overwhelmingly positive.

You must understand, I was not prepared to like it initially, mostly because my sister had some withering comments to level at my previous attempts to grow facial hair. It has never turned out well in the past, and I was prepared, generally, for it to look abysmal.

What I am saying, in basic, is that I was not nuts about it, and I am still not totally convinced, but having been told many--no, really--many times that it looks really good, I have wandered into the unknown.

What I am saying, ya'll, is that: if I start looking like trapper john, or a large animal, or a NASCAR fan, for the love of all that is good and holy, tell me. I am operating under the effects of peer opinion and am not entirely within my mind.

Hey, Brother. Crag.

2:46 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
When I was younger I had alter egos. My brothers and I envisaged other planets in a far off world, where these characters lived. That world was an analogy for our own and we created it, not out of whole cloth, but using the materials supplied by the world around us. So also, those alter egos were not wholly outside of us, but aspects of our personalities.

The alter egos in particular were interesting, because, though they were prone to exaggeration, everything that they said was merely a caricature of something we  actually thought. Speaking as an alter ego--we could tell by voice change, slight or extreme, depending on the character--we could put an often humorous twist on whatever we were thinking. We would say something ridiculous, but beneath it, we could immediately find the kernel of truth that the other had spoken.

And, have I been using the past tense? I beg your pardon. Our alter egos are not nearly dead yet, nor do I expect they ever will be.

In the first part, I have no intent to surrender my imagination, nor my sense of the ridiculous, both of which have definitely been sharpened through our playacting. It is extraordinary good fun, and it is a mechanism we often use to take something that annoys us, and laugh heartily at it. And, more importantly, it is the particular language which I speak with my brothers. There are certain words, phrases, faces, tones, and gestures that speak volumes.

I really see no reason why growing older means putting the kibosh on imagination, and it really is not like I could surrender my alter egos; they are kind of attached. Plus, they really come in handy from time to time

So, until further notice, the Dragons are still protecting humanity from imminent "justice." The Two are scheming, and the Saint is probably being chastened as we speak, even whilst Junior and Eddie execute a glorious reverse charge. Jonathan and Andrew will know what I mean.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pride and Petulance Prompted by the Elder Brother Instinct.

10:23 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
My SAT essay score was a 6. I got two threes, which signifies that I have a mediocre grasp of the English language at best, and could use some work stringing together my arguments.

Now, my style might get a little florid; I take no small delight in playing with my words, but I have never--from any other source--had it suggested to me that my writing was mediocre. Is it a difference between my writing in the comfort of the home and writing in a high pressure test environment? I answer: I have never received less than an A on any essay based exam. It is seldom that I even get points deducted, let alone receive something equivalent with a C.

A C is well into seppuku territory.

Why do I bother to revisit this point? Because Dogmeat got a similar essay score on his SAT. The time given to the grading of each essay is around 2 minutes, which means that much of your score is based on assumptions and first impressions. The greatest guarantors of a good score are pretty script and a few well placed buzzwords.

My script will never be aesthetically pleasing. It has become more legible with time, but despite my efforts, it hardly looks like it belongs to an advanced life-form. Moreover, the language I use in tests--though generally flawless--is simple. I write with directness and clarity, and concern myself more with making my point than with making it too prettily; though simple, they are substantial. But when the only consideration given is that of the first glance, and when the essay is not read in its entirety, I hardly make a smashing impression.

We are left with two possible conclusions. First, that Andrew and I both just had off days in our writing, and the essay portion accurately diagnosis writing ability. Or else, the essay portion is a flawed assessment of capability.

Given that I have never repeated a poor essay for a grade, and that I have written essays across multiple disciplines, and for some notoriously tough professors, I not so humbly submit that the first option is ridiculous. Also, being familiar with my younger brother and his intellect, I submit that he will reiterate my point, emphatically.

If a portion of the test grade is to be subjective, then the essay should be read, not glanced at. For my own sake, I don't really care. The good people of the College Board may bite me. But it gets more on my nerves when I see Dogmeat get the same score; partially because his personality is one which feels a greater need for affirmation and approbation, and also because he almost certainly did not get the score he merited.

We write our deep thoughts a touch--alright, quite--messily, and I think that is why we got marked down. Thinking back on some of the near illegible comments left on my papers, I wonder how my profs would have fared.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Valentine's Day

11:02 AM Posted by Patrick 8 comments
The urge to write struck me as I was sitting here. I have a sneaking suspicion that this has something to do with the mountain of German homework I should be doing. Alas, for now I only feel like writing in English; say what I will about enjoying other languages, English is the language of my heart; my mother tongue and the stuff of my imagination. I will never take the same joy from another.

I suppose, since it is St. Valentines Day, that I should say something to the subject at hand.

Those of you who know me none to well might not be wise to this, but I am something of a hopeless, sopping, sappy, romantic. I subscribe to a great many old-fangled notions, and cling desperately to a somewhat idealized view of love. Perhaps our present hook-up culture has left me a touch outdated, but that is quite alright; I will take classic grace and beauty over coarse modernity any day.

But, take heart, my old-fangled brothers, Valentines Day is as much for us as for those who are just looking to, ah, "get lucky." In fact, we must make it more so! We are at war; the chick-flick against pornography, Jane Austen against Fifty Shades, commitment against the "I'll have one of each" mentality.

We fight for the triumph of romantic love over impulse. We do not despise or deny our sexuality, but neither do we divorce our sexuality from love. We do not confuse love and infatuation. Love is so much more than the heady tonic of hormones--pleasant though they may be--and is not encapsulated in a moment of feelings.

Pardon my thinking like a history major, but love is the record of actions over time; the easy, intimate, familiarity which a couple develops over time. Love cannot be passive; this familiarity recognizes the needs and moods of the beloved, and acts, perhaps without knowing, for the good of the beloved. Love desires to be happy, but it finds that contentment, not in momentary physical pleasure, but in the health, happiness, and contentment of another.

The love of a man for his beloved should, in some respects, reflect the love of a mother for her children. He should take no greater joy than in her growth, contentment, and--more than anything--in her loving him in turn.

I realize that men have always, across all time, used--used!--women for sexual pleasure, but there are fewer times, to my perception, when we exalted in it quite the same way that we do now. Further, it has come to a point where there are women who exalt in being used; a much rarer depravity.

I say depravity, because so it is. To objectify another person is depravity; it is the absence of the basic respect that we owe to our fellows. In the arena of love, however, I view it as nothing less than an abomination. It is the vulgar spectacle of money lenders in the church. They are taking something beautiful and transcendent and violating it for their profit. They co-opt to their seductions the emotional power of--and yearning for--some deeper romantic love.

Many find St. Valentine to be incongruous with a day celebrating love; I find I can twist it to fit. Valentine was murdered for preaching to the emperor. But do you not think that he knew what his portion would be; he preached the Gospel to a man who was even then persecuting the Christians. His was an act of sacrificial love; he could have held his silence and kept his life, but the emperor had befriended him, and Valentine repaid that friendship with his own, sacrificial, love.

Learn from St. Valentine. His day is a day to be bold, to seize the day in the face of almost certain martyrdom. ;-p

Learn from St. Valentine. His day is a day to be bold; to be bold in loving others and in asking for their love. A day for brash, public, expressions of love; foolish to men. That is love; to be willing to be the fool, the oaf, the clown, the protector, the champion, the friend, the therapist, the nurse, and the martyr for your beloved. Not just to be willing, but to do those things every day, for as long as you both shall live.

Go then, my brothers, and be bold to love.